Why waxing shows no sign of waning

The health and beauty industry is fighting fit - and career opportunities are on the rise, says Clare Dwyer Hogg
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The Independent Online

the health and beauty sector is burgeoning. We are increasingly concerned about our bodies: what they look like, how they're doing inside, and what the options are if we want to look after ourselves. And there is a gamut of options: there's the gym, of course, although that smacks of hard work; reflexology; naturopathy; osteopathy; aromatherapy; myriads of massage types from hot stones to being stamped on... the list goes on. On the beauty side, one could spend all day in the salon waxing, pruning, plucking, being made up and coiffed - and all the other techniques available to make us more glamorous.

As demand grows for these services to be on our doorstep, so does the need for people who can provide the service. "Demand for new skills feels to me at an all time high," says Ravi Bahnot, director and tutor at the Ayurveda Institute in Ilford. "Attitudes have drastically changed: 10 years ago not many people had heard of ayurveda [a traditional Indian system of healthcare]; now we've been taken on board by the Hilton hotel for some of their spas." Bahnot provides already-qualified professionals with new skills; for complete beginners, however, the world of complementary therapy presents so many options that the choices are dizzying. How can newcomers aspiring to be professionals in these fields be sure that they are getting proper training?

No need for smelling salts. The explosion of complementary therapies led the Government to put in motion a new system of regulation in 2001. "It used to be very difficult, but there's now a system in place for regulation of complementary therapies in UK," says Julia Wood, a teacher in this area for seven years, and a reflexology lecturer at Morley College, London, since 2003. As a result, the scores of associations have come together to form self-regulatory bodies. "The developing lead body is the Reflexology Forum," explains Wood, "so if you were trying to find a course, the first thing you'd do would be to get in touch with the Reflexology Forum. That's where you find advice about how to find suitable training courses: they list all the membership associations that are responsible for training and providing support to qualified therapists and students."

The importance of these associations is that, as part of the official body, they provide insurance for qualified professionals - an all-important part of going into practice. As well as ensuring that the qualification you receive follows the strictly regulated guidelines and affords you the right to become part of the regulatory body, it is important to ensure that the school or college follows good educational practice.

It is a good idea to meet the teacher and ask them whether they are a qualified therapist (it is recommended that the teacher has been qualified for at least three to five years). Importantly, the cost of the course is not necessarily a sign of its quality. Local education colleges, for instance, have access to funding which allows them to subsidise their training; other colleges within the Ucas system have the usual grant availability (the University of Westminster, for one, runs a BSc in complementary therapies). Remember, too, that many complementary therapy courses (aside from degree level) are part time, so it is possible to have a job concurrently, choosing evening or weekend classes.

And there is a wealth of study opportunities. Hermann Keppler, principal of the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM), ran colleges in Germany for 15 years before he and his wife set up in Britain in 1998. He has found the demand for degrees and diplomas in the areas of naturopathy, naturopathic nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine, has exponentially increased since his time in the UK. "People seem to have much more interest," he says. "The CNM started out with just one college and eight students, and now has 11 colleges across the UK and Ireland with over 800 enrolled students." These students, he thinks, have little to worry about when they graduate.

"They have little trouble finding jobs after their training," he says. "The majority go on to open successful clinics and practices."

Jennifer McCullough, who has been in the beauty therapy industry for over 14 years, agrees. "Since I trained, I've never been out of work," she says. "Look in the trade magazines and there are pages and pages of advertisements with employers looking for qualified staff." And, excitingly, those job opportunities are not all UK-based, either.

Deborah Marshall-Warren, author of A Consultancy in the Sun, a guide to working as a therapist, coach, or beauty specialist abroad, says the industry has a rosy future. "The major hotel chains are all creating outlandishly luxurious spa environments, essentially modern day retreats," she says. "They're offering opportunities for therapists, coaches, beauty therapists, fitness motivators - people of all persuasions - to enjoy consultancy in the sun. There are fabulous opportunities for therapeutic specialists to expand their practice." The world, it seems, is just sitting there waiting for aspiring health and beauty professionals to go out there and take it.

'Like any artist, you have to do unpaid work at the beginning'

Ian Massa-Harris, 27, is a make-up designer

When I was 21 I thought I'd learn about make-up as a hobby. I'd been acting since I was young, and always liked make-up, but I like to study, so thought if I was going to do it I should do it properly. I looked for a course online and enrolled for City and Guilds NVQ Level 2, at Morley College, London, in the Exercise and Health Department.

The classes were once a week, in the evening; I learnt about make-up and beauty therapy, and I was able to tie up what I knew with technique. We did our own portfolios, documenting every stage of the learning: I had to treat clients and create a photo diary, so all my friends became my models, which I was grateful for. I'm also thankful to Morley College; while I was a student, my tutor recommended me for work, so I started to do small bits then. After I graduated, I went on training courses in special effects. I did about two years of training in all.

Like any artist you have to do a lot of unpaid work at the beginning to build your reputation. Even now, if I'm offered the right project and the pay isn't tremendous, I'll take it because I'm interested. My first high-profile client came two years after I finished training, when I was booked to do video promotion for the BBC3 website. We had a fantastic shoot, and that's when my reputation started to build. I got more work doing special effects for them, and it helped me to get more jobs. For the last two years, I've done promotion for London Pride and the Mardi Gras. They were linked with the Live 8 event, too, and I was involved with the photoshoot for that.

I now have a make-up design company called Queen of Mascara that specialises in design for theatre and film. I work with a colleague from a fashion make-up artistry background, and I'm designing for a Sci-Fi film at the moment. Meanwhile I've been lecturing at Morley, and hoping to teach at the London Academy of Radio, Film and TV.

As a make-up designer, I have an image in my head, and then I design it; I'm given a brief then I create the look. You have to visualise colours in your head without getting bogged down in particulars: make-up involves basic rules, and the rest is about how creative you are. My background in theatre helps, but while it's all very well training on the go, training is invaluable. A portfolio and the bit of paper that says you're qualified gives you more credibility.

'Get out there, dip your toe in the water, and see how it feels'

Catherine Nash, 38, is a naturopath

I used to work as an IT consultant, a fairly high-powered job, with lots of responsibility. I enjoyed it but it was a very stressful with lots of travelling. When I was 29, I had IBS and was diagnosed with endometriosis, which was quite severe and threatened infertility. I tried lots of things, and then went to see a naturopath. It was the colonic hydrotherapy that kick-started my health: I believe there are links with irritable bowel and endometriosis. I changed from a highly processed diet to a fresh organic one with no sugar, too.

After that, I decided I wanted to train in naturopathy and use the knowledge I had to help other people. I researched different colleges, and most asked for a diploma in anatomy and physiology. So initially I did weekends at the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) getting that diploma, the foundation of the job, because I hadn't had any medical background. I then went part-time in my IT job, studying a couple of days a week; all in all it took about four years, and then I had a diploma in naturopathic medicine. Simultaneously, I was also training in colonic hydrotherapy at weekends, so I was able to register with the Colonic Association.

After I finished training in 2003, I set up my own company, Thyme to Heal, and was lucky because I managed to get a job in an established clinic. Initially I only had an hour a week, but gradually built up my clientele until I was practically full time. In 2004 when I moved house, I joined another clinic in Kent.

It's a rewarding job: last year, for instance, a lady came through my door with arthritic rheumatic problems. She was hobbling then, but after a year of working together, now she's swimming and trampolining. That turnaround, when people put effort in, is really rewarding. And having been in practice now for three years, I think that you really can't divorce the emotional side of things from the physical. I'm doing an Open University degree in psychology now - that's the next part of my journey, which I'll be studying when on maternity leave with my second child.

I think I actually utilised my IT skills in my new career as a naturopath: the professionalism and consultancy skills were transferable. People think that they can only go down one career path and get very stuck, but you can do it. Get out there, dip your toe in the water, and see how it feels.